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11-19-2012, 02:31 PM
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Originally Posted by danincanada View Post
You can refer to them as geniuses and outliers but really what they were is the best player at their position for an extended period of time. I agree there is no guarentee that a generation produces two Harvey's or two Lidstrom's based on a doubling of the talent pool but there is also no guarentee that it doesn't produce 3 or 4 either.
I've been chewing on this statement and had a thought. I'm going to throw it out there for consideration... maybe it'll float, maybe it won't.

When I think of hockey players that operated at a true "genius" level -- meaning if there were a league above the NHL where players could get called up to play against the hockey gods themselves, these guys would still be good players in that league -- I really only think of three names. Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux. Those players looked like men among boys, not just at their peak but pretty much all the time. They performed at a level that wouldn't even be considered possible if they hadn't proven otherwise, and were only slowed by the limitations of the human body. Some would throw Forsberg or Hasek in the same category which is fine for the sake of this discussion.

Then, below that, you have some great players who were merely "the best at their position for an extended period of time". Bourque belongs in this category, as does Jagr and Bossy and so forth. Perhaps controversially, I'd put Gordie Howe here. I think we all agree that Lidstrom goes in this category, in the sense that he was more like Bourque than Orr, with the difference between Ray and Nick simply being a matter of measuring the degree to which they were the best defensemen and for how long.

So this leads me to ask: to which category do we assign Doug Harvey? Unless I am missing something, he goes into the "best at the position for a long time" category rather than the "transcendental genius" category. As opposed to Orr and Gretzky exposing new horizons in game that have never been duplicated in spite of legions of imitators, Harvey was one of those players who found something new but fairly easily duplicated. Closer to a Glen Hall or Bernie Geoffrion, pioneering the technical possibilities of the game.

In that light, with all due respect to Harvey as a pioneer, for me it kind of takes a little bit of the luster off the "outlying genius" aspect of his argument. Not that he doesn't deserve some credit for being influential, but it seems to me that matters of influence are a bit of a tangent here.

Harvey and Lidstrom both went against the popular concept of what a defenseman was supposed to be, and proved a lot of people wrong about what a "complete" defenseman looks like, and in that respect they are more or less on equal ground as influencers. So it seems to me that they really should be compared purely in terms of career merit, without the distraction of which one was more of a trailblazer and whatnot. Harvey shouldn't get an automatic bonus above and beyond our normal standards for comparison.

On that note, I'm also starting to wonder if we haven't underestimated the possibility that Eddie Shore was closer to the Orr-Gretzky-Mario level, and what that might mean.

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